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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, July 05, 2015


2015-07-05 Freedom

Mark 6:1-13




Last week we went out to dinner with friends at Hot Rod's 50's Diner in Alcoa, Tennessee, from whom I am receiving no compensation. Family owned and operated since 2009, their burgers are hand-shaped daily using only 100% fresh ground Angus chuck steak, never frozen and no fillers.


Hot Rod's has 46 kinds of hamburgers. Forty-Six. They start with The Classic, and move on. The Peanut Butter Burger. The Gravy Train Burger. The Hot Dog Burger, topped with, yes, a hot dog. The Broccoli Burger. The Donut Burger, with cheddar cheese and bacon, served between two glazed donuts for buns. For an additional .99 cents, they'll add a fried egg topper.


And, for only $17.99, The Chubby. A 33 oz. triple burger served with a pound of french fries. If you eat it all in 30 minutes, you get a T-shirt, your picture on the wall, and a free ambulance ride to Blount Memorial Hospital. Blount Memorial: Close to Home.


So, I'm looking at the menu, wiping away saliva, and I say, "I LOVE this country!" Menus like this are why George Washington crossed the Delaware, and why other countries hate us so much. So many choices. So much freedom. So much freedom of choice.


Freedom. Choice.


40 kinds of burgers. 100 brands of beer. 50 shades of grey. 38,000 products in the average chain grocery store. If Jesus and his disciples showed up today, they'd think they'd died and gone to heaven. And if they ate too many Chubbys they just might.



Freedom. Choice. Freedom OF choice. Kids today have so many choices. Then again, so do old people. Ask your doctor if it's right for you. And she'll say, "Which possible side effects do you want to choose?" Dry mouth, bulging eyeballs, or uncontrollable flatulence?


With everything being a choice, it's kinda nice to have someone choose things for you. Freedom FROM choice. A lot of religious groups will do that. But religions have their own fine print and side effects, too. Like the ones Jesus found out about when he went back home to Nazareth.




Jesus preached freedom. In Luke's version of today's story, Jesus goes to Nazareth and proclaims, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim RELEASE to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go FREE…." (Luke 4:18)


And in Luke's version, the people are so astounded by Jesus they try to throw him off a cliff. They don't want to hear about freedom. The people of Nazareth had no choices. I guess they could move. Hopefully faster than the stones being thrown at their heads. The idea of choice, the vision of freedom, was as foreign to them as Peanut Butter Burgers. Take that freedom stuff off the menu. Take the menu off the menu. Keep the change.


In Mark's version of Jesus's homecoming, the people are a little nicer. They just ignore him. "And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them." Which is great if you're one of the sick people. But it didn't help his average. It left him (Mark says) "amazed." If you can amaze Jesus (!) you're pretty amazing.


When I saw that this was the passage this Sunday, I was amazed. And not in a good way. I thought, "How in the world does this relate to the Fourth of July? Or the Fifth?" Mark 6:1-13 is the gospel reading assigned for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost from Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary. A lot of preachers choose to follow the Lectionary because if you give us freedom to pick our own scriptures we'll do the same one every Sunday or get really weird. The Lectionary's a self-inflicted limit on freedom of choice. Some Sundays, it looks like God in heaven's picking the Word. And other times, someone from a lower, warmer climate.


So I look at today's scripture and I ask myself, Where's the freedom? Where are the fireworks? The burgers? The Budweiser at the lake? Not there. You could argue that the people of Nazareth and surrounding towns had no freedom at all. The Roman Army regulated their life, and their religion took what was left. They had no vote, no press, no due process, no alternatives. Sure, you could worship other gods. Once.


Except. Except, and I find this pretty amazing. They had this one freedom. You hear it in lines like this: "And they took offense at him." And this: "If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you…."


Do you hear the freedom? Freedom to choose NOT. Freedom of Jesus's hometown NOT to listen to him. Freedom NOT to welcome the disciples. Freedom of the disciples NOT to spend more time than needed in a hostile place.


Oh, holy smokes, I think I found it: The connection to the Fourth of July and freedom. Except, we Americans think in terms of freedom TO - freedom to do whatever it is we want to do. Yes? "Hey, it's a free country, right?" "I'm not hurting anybody, right?" Ours is freedom to do. To buy. To own. To keep and to bear. To choose TO. But Jesus seems to think in terms of freedom to choose NOT to do. Even freedom not to listen… to HIM.


I'm amazed at the freedom God gives to Nazareth and the surrounding towns. Freedom to say No. Freedom to refuse even God.


But then look at the other side of the story. Jesus and his disciples have freedom to walk away from blessings wasted. Amazing.


I think we just zoomed past the importance of the freedom of fried foodstuff. Way past the freedom to pick the scriptures you like to preach on. Past the freedom to set off firecrackers despite danger to life and property. All those choices fade in comparison. Not that they're unimportant. Please DO celebrate your freedoms as Americans.


But when you're talking about freedom from God, I'm not so sure this is something we want to celebrate. Or maybe it is. Either way, I think it's a freedom to be very, very careful with.




When Jesus sent the disciples out two by two he told them, "If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."


I think church people have clung to this teaching kind of arrogantly. As if refusal to be converted is contagious. "Make sure you Purell when you leave their house." Shaking the dust off your feet when you leave is kind of passive-aggressive. Like, "I don't want to say you're condemned to flames, but I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. Have a nice eternity."


Haters gonna hate. Just gotta shake it off, shake it off. (TSV)


If this is testimony against someone for refusing to receive the good news of Jesus Christ, it's pretty lightweight. It's more for the evangelist than the evangelee.


Our house is antique and the basement is unfinished, so when you go down there, it's just red clay and the bones of previous owners. When you come back upstairs, if you don't wipe the dust off your feet, or take your shoes off, you track footprints all over. Everybody can see where you've been.


When Jesus tells the disciples to shake off the dust of inhospitable people, he's telling them to act kindly and discreetly. In other words, "Don't show everybody else the tracks of where you've been." Don't talk about them after you're gone. Don't bring up their dirt. Because, believe me, you've got enough of your own. So, restrain your freedom of speech, especially if it concerns other people and their choices. Even their choices about God.




One of the things I like about being Presbyterian is that theologically - and often in practice - we say grace is more important than choice. It's like what we say when we baptize babies. Even though you don't know who God is yet (or maybe you do but can't articulate it), even though you don't know it, God chooses you. God chooses to love you. God loves you first. And no matter what.


Even if your parents never take you to church again, even if you grow up thinking God is jiggery pokery (I LOVE that man's vocabulary), God still says over you the promise of scripture, "I will be your God, and you shall be my people." (Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 30:22)


Even if you and your house are inhospitable to disciples, or to Jesus himself, "I will be your God, and you shall be my people."


"I will be your God, and you shall be my child."


God's free choice is to allow you freedom of choice. God freely chooses you, even you don't choose God. Penalty for your choice is NOT eternal fire, but God choosing to shake your dirt off. Haters gonna hate. But God's gonna love.


People ask, "Is there ANYTHING you can do to make God fall out of love for you?" And I'm like, "Do you really want to find out?"


That's why it's important to take your freedom of choice seriously. To take it responsibly. And joyfully. And to do unto others as ridiculously kindly as God keeps choosing to do unto you.




On the Fourth of July, and all weekend long, we celebrate the freedom of this great land. They're pretty great. So, indulge us if we get a little over-indulgent with our celebration.


God's freedom. God's freedom to choose. God's freedom to choose people. God's freedom to choose you… has always and will always be overindulgent. Oh, how much more should we celebrate this?


Praise God with your choices. Praise God with your love. Praise God with sharing and being good news to each other, and to everyone.